I like to watch shows about how things are made. Whether the show is about consumer products, buildings, public works, or one-of-a-kind inventions, I enjoy learning the details of how raw materials can be brought together to create something useful, impressive, or novel.
However, there are only so many things that can be done in order to make a new product. Components can be added to each other, through processes like welding, gluing, 3D printing, and bolted joints. Material can also be removed from an initial block of raw material or rough part, through carving, machining, polishing, or tumbling. Pliable substances can be re-shaped into new forms, through molding, stamping, or just the practiced hands of an artisan. And, certain compounds can be transformed, through steps like baking, chemical transformations, or melting.
Changing our lives – from selfish, destructive habits, into the superior life that God offers to us – requires some work, as well. We cannot move out of our broken, rusty, unpolished state of sin, to become the finished product that we were meant to be, without some additions, subtractions, forming, and transformations.
Paul, in a letter to the church in Ephesus, outlines a couple of these:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV
Like an expert worker chopping off husks or pods from harvested fruit, it takes some work (and practice) to get rid of the dead life of sin that had grown within us while we each went our own way. As impurities contaminate unrefined metal, sin has a tendency to get mixed into our lives, and typically requires some force or heat to get rid of it (see 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Once the junk is removed from our lives, though, we’re still not finished. Living according to God’s plan is much more rich and exciting than just “not sinning”. To get to where God wants us to be, we are provided with a “new self”, guided into purpose and action as we live a special, set-apart life.
However, achieving a positive change in our behavior takes some other kinds of “manufacturing operations”, these having to do with our mind. In another one of Paul’s letters (this one to believers in Rome), we find this verse:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 NIV
It doesn’t take much effort to let ourselves be squashed into the mold that a sinful world – eager to make more copies of evil behavior in human beings – pressures us to fit into. Going along with the crowd is usually pretty easy. When we let our sinful natures guide us into “default” unrighteous behavior, we can just coast along and flow into whatever pattern seems to fit at the time. That’s not a great way to live, though, especially if we want to actually change the world for the better.
God doesn’t call us to just squirm and try to match His perfect plan for our lives. He doesn’t expect us to take our sinful behaviors and just stop doing them, using only our own strength. Instead, He offers us a fundamental change to our lives. Like a cake that goes into the oven as a gooey mess, and comes out light and fluffy, God can completely transform us into something fundamentally different. I believe that He uses our experiences, skills, and opportunities (from before we chose to follow Him), as part of our service to Him after our “metamorphosis”. However, with the gifts and teaching of the Holy Spirit, our minds can be focused on completely different goals and purposes, once we allow Him to change us. Then, it becomes much more clear to understand what God wants us to be, and – as I see it – walking according to His perfect plan is much more natural, compared to the fruitless efforts of trying to “be good” in our previous, sinful, un-transformed state.
God can do great work on us, if we will let Him. He is the master craftsman and the potter. May those of us who follow Him live as His new creations today, showing the world His ingenuity, His skill, His nature, and His love for others.